Equity and Economic Development Must Go Hand in Hand

Traditional approaches don’t always work. Cities need to be intentional about targeting their economic development programs at the people and communities that are increasingly distant from the growth sectors of their local and regional economies.

The city of Cleveland is incorporating innovative approaches to economic development like the Evergreen Cooperative Initiative, a new model of equitable economic development that focuses on creating living wage jobs and asset building opportunities in six low-income neighborhoods. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by NLC President and Cleveland Councilmember Matt Zone. It was first published in the 25th anniversary edition of PACDC magazine.

In today’s rapidly-changing demographic, social, environmental and economic environment, the need for equitable economic development programs is particularly urgent. According to the Brookings Institution, states and localities spend $50 to $80 billion on tax breaks and incentives each year in the name of economic development despite a mountain of evidence showing that tax incentives produce mostly marginal returns. These traditional approaches to economic development by local governments have not benefited all populations — and, in many cases, the policies and programs have particularly neglected or even shortchanged people of color, immigrants and low-income communities.

When cities instead invest in making economies more equitable from the bottom up, or from the middle class out, economic growth is likely to be better for all residents, and that growth is more likely to be sustained over longer periods of times. Cities need to be intentional about targeting their economic development programs, funding and policies at the specific populations and neighborhoods that are increasingly distant from the growth sectors of their regional and city economies.

In my city, we have a nonprofit organization called the Democracy Collaborative that is a national leader in equitable, inclusive and sustainable development. In partnership with the city, the Cleveland Foundation, the Ohio Employee Ownership Center, and major hospitals and universities, they helped to implement a new model of large-scale, worker-owned and community-benefiting businesses. The Evergreen Cooperative Initiative is beginning to build serious momentum in Cleveland, and we’re very proud that this model is being referred to nationally as “The Cleveland Model.” We see innovative approaches to economic development emerging in other cities nationwide to bring green job creation and neighborhood stabilization, and I’m very proud that the National League of Cities (NLC) is working to speed up the learning process in this area.

To that end, and in partnership with PolicyLink and the Urban Land Institute (ULI), NLC launched the Equitable Economic Development (EED) Fellowship last year with the generous support of the Surdna and Open Societies Foundations. Specifically, the EED Fellowship provides one year of technical assistance to a class of six cities to help them pursue more equitable and inclusive economic development policies and programs in traditionally underserved communities — those that have the highest levels of unemployment and the lowest levels of income and educational attainment, and represent the highest needs for job- and workforce-related programs in the city. Through leadership development, technical assistance, peer learning and sharing best practices, the fellowship provides city leaders with insights and tools to make equity, transparency, sustainability, innovation and community engagement driving forces for how they conduct economic development and bring an intentional focus on communities that have been historically disconnected from economic growth and prosperity.

The inaugural EED Fellowship class consists of three fellows each from the cities of Boston; Charlotte, North Carolina; Houston; Memphis, Tennessee; Milwaukee and Minneapolis. The participants in NLC’s Equitable Economic Development Fellowship are tackling unemployment, low income levels, and workforce-related issues in their communities — but each city is employing different tactics.

The EED Fellowship includes a year-long program of working retreats, web-based discussions, site visits and peer exchanges to introduce the teams of practitioners from each participating city to best practices, national experts, and their peers across the country. Throughout the year, the EED Fellowship also offers technical assistance via webinars on different topics identified by the six cities.

Each city in the program has also identified an economic development policy or program that they want to advance with a more equitable approach, and NLC, PolicyLink, and ULI deliver technical assistance to them on that project throughout the year. Some of the topics covered include: inclusive strategies for small business development and entrepreneurship support, best practices in collecting data for equitable economic development, institutionalizing equity in economic development programs and policies, and presenting a framework to incorporate an equity lens in economic development incentive package.

The work of the EED Fellowship cities also serves as a model for a new Economic Mobility and Opportunity Task Force at NLC. Based on years of work that NLC has done on antipoverty efforts and family economic security, I created this task force last fall, and asked Mayor Kasim Reed of Atlanta to chair it. The task force is comprised of 22 elected officials around the country, and Mayor Reed issued a challenge this month that each of those leaders should implement a new policy or program in their city before the task force concludes its work at the end of the year. That charge — to move from talking about innovation to actually acting to bring it about in our cities — is exactly the kind of leadership that NLC wants to bring to the challenges facing cities. We’re very proud to be leading this work with our Equitable Economic Development Fellowship. Please follow the task force’s progress and look for a report on a set of recommendations for local leaders at the end of the year.

Stay up-to-date on the Economic Mobility and Opportunity Task Force and the EED Fellowship by following this blog series. Ready to take action in your own city? Take the Local Action Challenge for Economic Mobility and Opportunity and sign a pledge to increase economic mobility and opportunity for your residents in 2017.

About the author: Matt Zone is the 2017 president of the National League of Cities (NLC). He serves as a city councilmember in Cleveland, Ohio, representing Ward 15, which includes the Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood where he and generations of his family grew up.

How Cities Can Acquire Free Land to House and Serve Homeless People

This webinar on April 25 will discuss the release of a toolkit with information about how to identify and successfully apply for vacant federal properties that can be used to help the homeless in your city.

One largely untapped resource for addressing homelessness and the affordable housing crisis is vacant federal property. (Getty Images)

Cities across the country are struggling with rising housing costs and shrinking federal supports, leaving millions of people homeless or at risk, including a record 1.4 million children of school age. With city budgets stretched to their limits, it is critical that local governments make full use of all available resources — and vacant federal property is a largely untapped resource.

The federal government is the largest single owner of real estate in the nation. Every year, the federal government determines that thousands of properties — including warehouses, office buildings and vacant land — are no longer needed. When such a determination is made, a federal program authorized under Title V of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act provides local governments and nonprofit organizations with the right of first refusal to these properties to serve homeless people. Better yet, these properties are transferred to eligible homeless service providers for free.

Approximately 500 buildings and nearly 900 acres of land have been transferred to cities and other eligible homeless service providers in more than 30 states under Title V, with over two million people served each year. Federal surplus property is used to create emergency shelters, transitional housing for domestic violence survivors, and permanent supportive housing for mentally ill veterans, in addition to office and warehouse space.

Recently, the law was amended to clarify that surplus federal properties can be used for permanent housing with or without supportive services. This important clarification to the law will allow cities access to millions of dollars in federal real property assets to reduce or even end homelessness in a sustainable and cost-effective way — without paying for title to the properties.

On April 25, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP) will release a toolkit with information about how to identify and successfully apply for properties under Title V and will host a webinar to discuss the toolkit at 2:00 p.m. EDT. You can register for the webinar here. The toolkit will be available on the NLCHP website.

(NLCHP)

About the author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is the Principal Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter @HarigBlaine.

City Leaders – Here’s Why the Better Buildings Summit Should Be on Your Calendar

More than 900 participants at the Department of Energy’s 2017 Better Buildings Summit will share proven approaches to cutting energy use in their buildings over the next 10 years.

Among other offerings, the Better Buildings Summit will provide city leaders a sneak peak of cutting edge and emerging clean technologies that will increase energy efficiency in buildings and infrastructure. (Getty Images)

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is hosting the Better Buildings Summit May 15–17 in Washington, D.C. The Better Buildings Summit is a national meeting where leading organizations across key sectors showcase solutions to cut energy intensity in their buildings portfolio-wide by 20 percent over the next ten years. As one of the premier events for energy and sustainability professionals, the summit is the forum to engage with peers, explore innovative organizational strategies, learn about financing and technology trends, and much more. Check out the agenda for a list of all the sessions and watch this video to learn more.

The summit features numerous sessions and workshops designed to give city leaders fresh insights, inspiration and practical advice. They include:

All-In: States, Localities, Utilities and Nonprofits Creating Solutions for Underserved Communities

DOE is partnering with states, localities, utilities, housing agencies and nonprofit organizations to support the planning and implementation of clean energy programs in disadvantaged communities as part of its Clean Energy for Low Income Communities Accelerator. Session attendees will gain a better understanding of the diverse opportunities to ensure equitable and affordable access to energy efficiency and solar energy in American communities.

An Electrifying Transition: Electrification Barriers and Opportunities

A shift toward greater electrification is needed to effectively reduce energy waste and costs, increase energy independence, strengthen industry, and create jobs. This three-hour workshop explores the opportunities and barriers for state and local governments to electrify their transportation sectors, building technologies and ports. Join the workshop to discuss the latest trends, success stories and innovative strategies in electrification.

Expect the Unexpected: Planning Energy-Resilient Communities

The nation’s energy sector is subject to an increasing number of threats from natural and human events. Greater resilience is required to confront these risks, including a comprehensive plan and infrastructure with the ability to avoid disruptions, minimize impacts, and recover from and adapt to a changing environment. Attend this three-hour workshop to learn about the technologies, planning and partnership approaches governments are pursuing to overcome these challenges.

Shedding Light on LED Street Lights

The Better Buildings Outdoor Lighting Accelerator dove deeply into the deployment barriers of LED street lights, a performance technology with evidence-based energy savings and other benefits for many cities. Partners will share advice for overcoming the challenges for successful LED street lighting conversion projects. Attendees will leave with actionable information and resources to plan their own projects.

Reimagining Cities! Achieving Efficient, Resilient and Sustainable Communities Through Zero Energy Buildings

Exemplary Zero Energy Buildings (ZEBs) are setting the standard for more sustainable communities. Over the last year, ZEB projects grew by 74 percent and have covered every climate zone in the U.S. This session will cover the planning, innovative technologies and processes that make Zero Energy Buildings a reality while highlighting ZEB projects in Denver and Washington, D.C.

Addressing the Energy-Water Nexus: The Next Wave of Challenges and Solutions

Our nation’s energy and water systems are inextricably linked. Solutions that address the interdependencies of these systems are growing in importance as concerns over water scarcity continue to rise. In this session, experts from the public and private sectors will share their perspectives on key technology, business and policy solutions that address the energy-water nexus.

There are also great opportunities to tour high-performance buildings, speak with technical experts from national labs, and network with public sector peers:

  • Monday, May 15: Local government meet-up and post-summit networking event
  • Tuesday and Wednesday, May 15 and 16: Ask-an-Expert between sessions to get technical advice on building technologies or reserve a meeting to get one-on-one assistance with your community’s energy performance data
  • Tuesday May 16: Meet & greet with attendees during an evening networking event

Register now and get an invite to join the summit app community!

Financial assistance is available. A limited number of travel stipends and registration scholarships are available upon request for representatives from state or local government energy/sustainability offices that do not have administrative funds available for such purposes through an existing federal funding agreement with DOE or another federal agency. Please submit financial assistance requests through the registration website.

The Better Buildings Summit is produced by the U.S Department of Energy.

About the author: Nick Kasza is a Senior Associate with the Sustainable Cities Institute at the National League of Cities. He is part of a team that administers the SolSmart program and helps deliver technical assistance to cities pursuing SolSmart designation.

How One Park District in Illinois Is Making Smarter Parks

In many cities, one of the most popular services utilized by the community is open space, including parks and playgrounds. Unfortunately, park use is also one of the hardest things for cities to measure.

Park visitation can be impacted by rentals, holidays, weather and construction, as well as the number of attendees at special events. Cities can use data on these impacts to improve park operations and drive project outcomes. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Bobbi Nance and Edward Krafcik. This post is the first in a series celebrating National Parks Week.

With the abundance of startup companies interested in partnering with local governments — and the variety of new technologies designed specifically for this purpose — there has emerged a decision paralysis which inhibits city leaders to act quickly and effectively on any one innovation project. This is only natural — after all, with so much available on the market in terms of technologies and ideas, and with little evidence to show what works and why, it is reasonably challenging for city leaders to decide where to invest when the upside and downside are not yet fully measurable.

In this sneak peek into a case study from the Park District of Oak Park, Illinois, we profile how Oak Park is collaborating with a startup company called Soofa from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab. By working together in a highly collaborative and iterative manner, both organizations achieved their goals simultaneously while maximizing the value the new technology provides to the citizens of Oak Park. This case study provides a working example for how innovative public-private projects can succeed, and offers advice on what to look for in a partnership with a startup company and how best to manage the associated risks.

The Park District of Oak Park first contacted Soofa in March of 2016 looking for ways it could count the number of people who use its parks with sensor technology instead of counting manually by hand. Specifically, the district’s goals were to compare the pedestrian use of its parks to inform capital planning decisions, measure the success of event programming and marketing activities, and tell a more complete story of how its parks are used and how valuable they are to the community.

As Bobbi Nance, senior manager of strategy and innovation for the Park District of Oak Park, described, “at any parks and recreation agency, the most popular service utilized by the community is open space, including parks and playgrounds. Unfortunately, park use is also one of the hardest things for park providers to measure. The technology in Soofa products was appealing to us as a data-driven organization because it allowed us for the first time to have consistent data about how our parks are being used, all while providing the added benefit of free solar-powered charging stations to our park visitors.”

A Soofa Core station installed in Oak Park, Illinois. (Soofa)

Soofa makes smart outdoor furniture, like park benches that use solar power to provide phone charging for the public and sensor data collection for public agencies and local governments. Oak Park is one of Soofa’s first smarter parks beta partners, meaning it engaged in a pilot project with the intention of co-creating a technology product that would closely meet its needs.

The network of beta partners also includes agencies like NYC Parks, Oklahoma City Parks and Recreation, Prince George’s County, Maryland, Parks and Recreation, and dozens of other forward-thinking city departments and agencies. You can read more about Oak Park’s installation in this Chicago Tribune article and learn more about how they engaged their community with the new technology by designing a fun QR code scavenger hunt called SpotTheSoofa.

Nance further illustrated how being a beta partner has provided the district with critical data during the first stages of the project. “In the first six months, we’ve already been able to spot differences in usage patterns in the four parks where a Soofa Core station was installed, and we are starting to see how park visitation is impacted by rentals, holidays, weather and construction, as well as the number of attendees at a special event or the number of people that take advantage of temporary offerings like outdoor ice rinks or art installations.”

Data Collection and Interpretation

Pedestrian count data is provided to the Park District of Oak Park in comma-separated value files which provide the district flexibility to study how park use is impacted by events, weather and more. Nance imports this data into her agency-wide dashboard, which is powered by iDashboards. The dashboard enables different types of correlations, including how temperature and events impact park use, and it can evaluate the success of different marketing strategies and tactics by revealing how many people visit the district’s parks based on a particular marketing initiative or advertised event.

While not every city or agency is using a dashboard as comprehensively as the Park District of Oak Park, the main lesson to be taken from this example is that being able to correlate data is crucial. When considering or comparing different technology products, services or companies, cities should ask tough questions about how data sets can be correlated with others, how open a particular data set is (meaning how easy it is to access and share), and how flexible and adaptive it is.

Data Usage Goals

A graph showing the impact of the 2017 Super Bowl game on park visitation. (Soofa)

The wealth of data gathered by Soofa’s sensors in the four parks across the Oak Park district is only beginning to be tapped into. The project has been live for nine months, with plans for expansion underway to increase the total number of sensors in the district’s parks. Further data use goals that will be explored in the coming months include:

  • Use pedestrian traffic data to improve park operations
  • Inform capital improvement schedules based on knowing how often different parks are actually being used — a goal which ultimately saves money on excessive improvements
  • Become more efficient in offering (and pricing) permits for events
  • Sync up with nearby business improvement districts and share the data to be able to quantify how public programming impacts park use and neighborhood activity in general
  • Measure the impact of park improvement projects by knowing how many more people visit the park after the improvements are complete

Accelerating the Process and Driving Outcomes

The original idea to bring Soofa benches to the Park District of Oak Park was presented in March 2016 by Bobbi Nance to her team via the district’s intranet, where district employees share innovative ideas. In just five months, Soofa technology was installed in four of the district’s parks. How did this happen so fast? Oak Park made a few recommendations on how to innovate efficiently:

  • Figure out early if you want to start with a pilot project or widespread deployment, and align all internal stakeholders accordingly
  • Insulate innovation projects from traditional processes and funding sources
  • Don’t overlook the value and the opportunity that comes from the innovation itself, like being able to co-develop a product that really meets your needs

To learn more and see data visualizations prepared by the Park District of Oak Park, read the full case study here.

About the authors:

Bobbi Nance is the senior manager of strategy and innovation at the Park District of Oak Park. Bobbi oversees the agency’s strategic plans and serves as a catalyst for innovation, moving ideas from concept to reality and accelerating the pace at which her agency implements improvements.

Ed Krafcik is the director of partnerships at Soofa and is an advisory board member for Parks and Recreation Magazine. He collaborates with cities and parks departments across the country to solve problems using new types of data.

NLC Announces 2017 SolSmart City Challenge

Cities can earn national recognition and prizes by showcasing their support for solar energy.

(SolSmart)

Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative, the SolSmart program helps cities remove regulatory barriers to solar deployment and implement best practices to harness economic opportunity. (SolSmart)

Solar energy experienced a record-setting year in 2016 as 14,762 megawatts of solar PV became operational across the U.S. For the first time ever, solar energy was the leading source of new electric generating capacity added to the U.S. energy mix, beating out wind and natural gas. Cities played a strong role in making that happen.

From coast to coast, there are examples of cities leading the way by installing solar panels on the rooftops of city halls, fire stations, libraries and old municipal landfills. Cities also realize they can promote solar in other ways, and are making it easier for local homes and businesses to install solar by streamlining their permitting processes or updating zoning codes.

Cities that embrace solar energy recognize the value it brings to the community: local, well-paying jobs. The National Solar Jobs Census 2016 from the Solar Foundation found that 1 out of every 50 new jobs added in the U.S. was in the solar industry. The report documented 260,077 solar workers in 2016 ­– just as many as in the natural gas industry.

The National League of Cities (NLC) supports local solar energy leadership and is a proud partner of SolSmart, a program funded by the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative. SolSmart recognizes leading solar communities and empowers additional communities to become solar leaders through customized technical assistance. NLC recently recognized the latest group of SolSmart designated communities at its 2017 Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C.

New SolSmart Communities:

  • SolSmart Gold: New York City and Louisville, Kentucky
  • SolSmart Bronze: Maricopa County, Arizona; Moab, Utah; Plano, Texas; Salt Lake City; and Summit County, Utah

SolSmart Communities Achieving a Higher Designation:

  • SolSmart Gold: Denver
  • SolSmart Silver: Charleston County, South Carolina, and Pinecrest, Florida

NLC wants to see more cities become SolSmart designees. To that end, we are launching the 2017 SolSmart City Challenge, a new national competition for cities to showcase their support for solar energy. The SolSmart City Challenge will run from Monday, April 3, until Friday, June 30. Cities can join the challenge by completing a SolSmart scorecard.

The SolSmart City Challenge has two categories (one winner from each).

  1. SolSmart City MVP: This award will go to the city with the highest verified points total after the initial submission of a SolSmart scorecard.
  2. SolSmart Most Improved: This award will go to the city with the highest verified points improvement between initial submission of a scorecard and resubmission of a SolSmart scorecard. Cities in this category will work with SolSmart technical assistance providers to complete more actions and acquire more points. Resubmissions must be received by 11:59 p.m. EST on June 30. Only one resubmission is allowed.

The prizes for the two winners of the SolSmart City Challenge include:

  • Travel reimbursement to attend the 2017 NLC City Summit, November 15-18 in Charlotte, North Carolina
  • Presentation opportunity at the City Summit during a workshop on Energy & Climate
  • Presentation opportunity during a future NLC webinar on SolSmart
  • Recognition in NLC communication platforms, including The Weekly, the official newsletter of the National League of Cities, as well as NLC’s official blog, CitiesSpeak, and our social media channels
  • SolSmart City Challenge Winning Certificate

Email Nick Kasza if you’d like to get started on the SolSmart scorecard or learn more about the SolSmart City Challenge. If you have a story or picture to share about solar energy impacting your community, send it to Nick and it may be featured in a future blog post.

Please note: the 2017 SolSmart City Challenge is open to new city submissions only. Cities that submitted a SolSmart scorecard prior to April 3, 2017, are not eligible. Previous submissions, SolSmart Early Adopter Communities, and communities with a SolSmart Advisor are also ineligible for the SolSmart City Challenge.

About the author: Nick Kasza is a Senior Associate with the Sustainable Cities Institute at the National League of Cities. He is part of a team that administers the SolSmart program and helps deliver technical assistance to cities pursuing SolSmart designation.

Why the City of New Orleans Just Ended Cash Bail for Low-Risk Crimes

A new policy promises to save the city money and enable the court to tailor conditions to an individual rather than relying on a person’s ability to pay.

By choosing to reserve pretrial jail detention only for those who pose a real public safety or flight risk, the city of New Orleans is leading the way toward more fair and effective justice system policies in Louisiana. (Getty Images)

In the past, low-income defendants who were charged with minor municipal offenses in New Orleans faced a quagmire. People with charges such as loitering or public intoxication could face up to a month in jail before they even went to trial simply because they could not afford bail. Sometimes, these charges would not have resulted in any jail time even if the individual was found guilty. On any given day, three out of 10 jail beds were filled by people incarcerated simply because they could not afford to pay their bail or fines and fees. In New Orleans, as in many other cities, the problems within the system disproportionately affected minority communities. In 2015, black New Orleanians, who comprise roughly 59 percent of the population, paid $5.4 million in bond premiums, or 84 percent of the $6.4 million total.

Losing a primary caregiver or earner to jail for even three days can devastate a family with few resources, leading to a cascade of problems including eviction, job loss and possibly intervention from child protective services.

Jailing people only because they cannot afford bail not only hurts families but costs cities money as well. In 2015, New Orleans spent $6.4 million detaining people who were jailed simply because they could not pay. This equates to 3,947 people who spent a total of 199,930 days in jail.

In response to these issues, the city of New Orleans recently passed an ordinance which ends the use of cash bail for municipal offenses for low-risk crimes. While the legislation eliminates the practice of cash bail for most municipal offenses, it also meets public safety needs by providing exceptions for charges such as simple battery and domestic abuse violence. In these cases, the municipal court makes a decision to impose non-financial release conditions or, in rare cases, preventative detention. The new policy also provides exceptions for people who get rearrested or fail to appear for their court date.

Starting in April, people charged with minor municipal offenses, regardless of their ability to pay, will be able to return to their families and take care of their responsibilities while waiting for their case to come before a judge. Passed unanimously by the city council in January, the ordinance has the support of both law enforcement and community advocates.

Support from the Pretrial Justice Institute, the Vera Institute of Justice, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge helped the city accomplish this crucial change to our local justice system. As the lead sponsor of the legislation, I prioritized this reform to make sure New Orleans uses its resources wisely, reduces harm to families and communities, and protects public safety.

Read more about NLC’s efforts to support criminal justice reform.

About the author: Councilmember Susan Guidry was elected to the New Orleans City Council as the District A representative in March 2010, and was elected to a second term in 2014. Guidry has served as chair of the council’s Criminal Justice Committee throughout her tenure.

Want to Close the Digital Divide? For Cities, Partnerships Are Key

In New York, the Bronx city government was able to provide 5,000 families living in public housing with tablets and internet service. Here’s how they did it.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (center), along with U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro (left) and Terry Hayes, Senior Vice President, Northeast Region, T-Mobile, gather in December 2016 to celebrate the work to connect 5,000 families living in public housing in the Bronx with tablets and internet service. (photo: EveryoneOn)

This is a guest post by Chike Aguh.

In New York City, approximately 20 percent of households currently don’t have the internet at home and have no mobile internet options. In the Bronx, it is a staggering 26 percent of households. The majority of the unconnected are minority and poor.

At EveryoneOn, we have seen this time and time again: low-income individuals yearning for a connection to the digital world but not being able to find a way to afford it. Luckily, cities are meeting this call and implementing public-private partnership solutions.

For example, in 2016, the Bronx city government worked with T-Mobile to provide 5,000 families living in public housing with tablets and internet service. It was a $2 million investment, and part of a larger $10 million commitment by the New York City government to bring affordable internet access to all of New York City by 2025.

“Increasing internet access across the city is not just a noble goal – it’s a necessary one. These days, the internet is virtually a requirement for people searching for jobs or students doing homework,” said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Along with free Wi-Fi internet through T-Mobile networks, the 5,000 residents were given tablets loaded with applications and links to city services. In addition, residents were offered information sessions on how to use the tablets. By combining these efforts with digital literacy training from the New York Public Library’s Bronx branches, residents now have access to the three-legged stool of digital inclusion: affordable internet access, a device on which to access the internet, and training on how to use both.

During the launch, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Julián Castro highlighted HUD’s innovative ConnectHome program, which connects residents in HUD-assisted housing, and praised New York City’s commitment to digital inclusion efforts.

“The ConnectHome program is providing children and families with the tools they need to stay competitive in this 21st century global economy,” said Castro in a news release. “With this new commitment to ConnectHome, T-Mobile and the city of New York are making a meaningful impact to close the digital divide for thousands of New York public housing residents.”

While the Bronx and New York City – along with other cities such as Seattle, Kansas City, Missouri, and Charlotte, North Carolina – have helped close the digital divide, the United States as a whole still has a long way to go in making sure that all people have access to the life-altering power of the internet. According to the American Community Survey, more than 60 million people are currently living on the wrong side of the digital divide. This divide affects both rural and urban residents, but disproportionately those that are poor and minority.

This lack of access and use of the internet impacts almost every aspect of daily lives. For example, Pew Research has found that approximately 80 percent of students need the internet to complete their homework, and that the vast majority of people have used the internet to research and apply for jobs. If you have the internet at home, high school graduation is more likely, which can lead to $2 million more in lifetime earnings.

These are just a few of the numbers that can be improved if we work together to connect people to the internet at home. At EveryoneOn, we have worked since 2012 to help connect people to the social and economic opportunities provided by the internet. So far, we have connected more than 400,000 people in the United States, with the goal of connecting one million people by 2020.

We believe that partnerships are a way for all cities to meet the digital needs of their residents. For cities and communities, support of digital inclusion efforts through community planning, public-private partnerships and monetary investments are substantial ways to help the unconnected enter the digital on-ramp. By working together, the goal of ending this digital divide is attainable. The digital inclusion needle can be moved with just a little push.

About the author: Chike Aguh is the chief executive officer of EveryoneOn, a national nonprofit that creates social and economic opportunity by connecting everyone to the internet. EveryoneOn serves as the nonprofit lead of HUD’s ConnectHome program. Follow Chike on Twitter @CRAguh or EveryoneOn @Everyone_On.